Seether formed as Saron Gas in 1999 in Pretoria, South Africa, renaming itself in 2002 after the song “Seether” by Veruca Salt. Saron Gas and Seether’s initial sound was inspired by the American grunge bands of the previous decade, combining a hard sound with melodic vocals. Opening for Papa Roach at Terminal 5, Seether brought its large backdrop and hung a skull with antlers from one of the three microphone stands. As the houselights dimmed, Seether came on stage and launched into one of its first radio hits, “Gasoline,” originally recorded by Saron Gas, and “Rise Above This,” written in the aftermath of the suicide of Shaun Morgan’s brother. The show boasted minimal surprises; in the one-hour set, Seether performed the band’s 12 songs most often played on rock radio. Nevertheless, the quartet managed to make the songs more than auto-repeat; the songs come alive with a crisp sound, dynamic energy, solid musicianship and, most of all, Morgan’s strong vocals. This quality was especially showcased on the quieter songs like “Broken.” Even as the band returned to clobbering hard rock, Morgan’s deep and darkly passionate vocals stood out.
Papa Roach/Terminal 5/January 20, 2015
Papa Roach began in January 1993, when lead singer Jacoby Shaddix of Vacaville, California, and some schoolmates entered his high school’s talent show, performing Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.” Personnel changed gradually and moved from nu metal and rapcore to a softer alternative rock over the 2000s. At Terminal 5, Papa Roach performed almost all of the band’s top radio songs; the only surprise was the omission of “She Loves Me Not” from Lovehatetragedy. Although the band has a new album, only the title track and the current single “Broken As Me” were in the setlist. One surprise was starting “Broken Home” with the chorus from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” The rest of the set was comprised of the more familiar songs, including “Getting Away With Murder,” “Scars” and “Last Resort.” The spike-haired and heavily tattooed Shaddix, wearing a t-shirt and a vest from his clothing line, took many opportunities to enthuse the audience by charmingly exhorting the fans about what a great audience they were or by asking them to bounce to the beat. This strong stage presence helped deflect attention away from his singing voice, which was not particularly strong and frequently strained at the higher range. The band occasionally changed tempos and intensity, but Shaddix sounded consistently like Jon Bon Jovi—commercial, catching and hard rocking without breaking any rules. Papa Roach brought energy and power to what essentially remained radio rock.
Savages/Mercury Lounge/January 21, 2015
In her late teens in Poitiers, France, Camille Berthomier met Nicolas Congé, and in 2006 they relocated to London, England, adopting new names, Johnny Hostile and Jehnny Beth, to form the indie rocking John & Jehn. Gemma Thompson played guitar for them, but then had a concept for a band called Savages. Hostile declined being in the band, leaving Beth as the lone vocalist. With bassist Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton, Savages became an all-female post-punk revival rock quartet in 2011. Savages started 2015 with an extended residency in New York City, playing nine shows in three music clubs, trying out before a live audience a collection of songs written since the band’s world tour concluded in 2013. “Can you boo us if you don’t like it?” Beth asked the audience four songs into their second of three Wednesday nights at the Mercury Lounge. The set consisted of six older songs and eight new songs. Fans, rejoice; the new songs, which will be recorded for a 2015 studio album, are as good or better than the band’s earlier material. With the next album, Savages will be huge. The music is a barrage of noisy guitar sounds, held together by a somewhat sinister-sounding bassline, crashing drums and sultry, hypnotic vocals. Brash and biting, Thompson ripped through volatile thrashing chords, occasionally breaking through with a squealing lead. Beth apologetically said her voice was a bit hoarse, but vocal style was a greater asset than range in the throbbing thunder produced by Savages. She increased the intensity of the songs’ adrenaline pulse by repeating lyric lines over and over again, each time more demanding and punishing. Although permission was granted earlier on, by show’s end no one had reason to boo.
August Burns Red/Irving Plaza/January 23, 2015
August Burns Red formed in 2003 when all five original members were attending high school in Manheim, Pennsylvania. The Christian metalcore band practiced in the drummer’s old egg house on his family’s farmland. Eventually, the band played shows around nearby Lancaster and worked its way to national status. At Irving Plaza, vocalist Jake Luhrs began by growling the lyrics to “White Washed.” 15 songs performed in about 75 minutes meant that none of the songs were very long, but what happened within each song was epic. No song kept a straight or standard composition; all the songs weaved through odd meters, changeable paces, twists and turns or heavy breakdowns. Fast and furious, the technical riffing was blistering. Unlike other metalcore vocalists, Luhrs did not mix clean vocals with his high and low-pitched guttural howls. August Burns Red performed many of its signature songs, including “Thirty And Seven,” “Marianas Trench,” “Meridian” and “Composure,” but also several songs that were rarely played live in the past, including “The Eleventh Hour” and “Up Against The Ropes.” The band seldom paused for air, as song followed song in rapid succession. It has been nearly two years since the band has recorded new songs, however, and none were introduced at the concert. Will the creativity continue to flow when August Burns Red leaves the road and enters the recording studio?
Joe Bonamassa/Radio City Music Hall/January 24, 2015
Joe Bonamassa was born in New Hartford, New York. His parents owned a guitar shop, and so he started playing guitar at age four. At 12 years old, he had his own band called Smokin’ Joe Bonamassa. The band gigged around western New York and Pennsylvania on weekends since he had school on weekdays. The pre-teen Bonamassa opened about 20 shows for B.B. King. Bonamassa is now 37 years old, but curiously most of his audience at Radio City Music Hall was much older than that. Perhaps the maturity of his audience was because the man in a three-piece suit, open-necked white button-down shirt and sunglasses is not a pop star but a genuine latter-generation blues guitarist. In concert, Bonamassa’s songs and musicianship fell somewhere between 1960s American blues guitarists and their British imitators, like a bridge between Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton. Most of the performance consisted of original songs, but Bonamassa also covered Daniel Lanois and Robert Johnson in the opening acoustic set and Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush in the closing electric set. There was little show biz flash about the performance, and yet it was the ultimate in professionalism, sophistication and finesse. Bonamassa is a fine soulful singer and interpreter, and the acoustic and electric bands supported him solidly. During the acoustic set, he liberally allowed his bandmates to share the spotlight, but for the electric set he gave the fans what they really seemed to crave, lots of wailing blues guitar. The clincher was the cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” as the first of four encore songs. Bonamassa’s show demonstrated that without moving in the pop direction of a John Meyer, a superb guitarist can impress a large audience.